Depending on who you ask, Jamaicans basically invented hip-hop, the remix, pretty much everything you’ll see a DJ do during their set at a festival, and the whole idea of the huge sound system you’re listening to. Kingston, the Jamaican capital, has been immensely influential on modern music — and specifically, for reggae and dancehall lovers across the world, going to Kingston is a necessary pilgrimage. It’s commonly said that reggae is the heartbeat of Jamaica, as the genre’s walking bass lines both reflect and inform the fundamental rhythms of life on the island. In my conception, dancehall, which evolved as a real time, street level explication of social and political strife, is the nation’s overclocked nervous system.
Drive around Kingston at any hour day or night and you will hear music playing loudly everywhere. It seems like every block has its own small bar with an oversized DIY sound system blasting the latest dancehall, or maybe a Shania Twain hit drenched in laser sound effects and air horn samples. While dancehall is a global business, what makes or breaks a dancehall artist or song in Jamaica are the street dances. These parties are held weekly in strip mall plazas, street corners, bars and empty lots, where hundreds of people come to push the culture forward.
My photography career started a decade ago in Kingston, where my boss, a formidable booking agent named Sharon Burke, paid my rent in exchange for me shooting a series of lavish all-inclusive holiday parties. I’ve returned every year since, deepening my relationship and respect for the creative communities of Jamaica. This photo series is a celebration of dancehall, and the dancers, producers, DJ’s, and sound system men whose intense devotion to their creative lives makes the city hum with possibility.